Whatcom County Council to hold public work session on Cherry Point Amendments

In Cherry Point Industrial Area, News, Wake Up Whatcom by CTNW News

The Whatcom County Council will hold a public virtual work session on Oct. 20, 2020, to discuss its latest concerns about the proposed new development rules related to crude oil exports at the Cherry Point Industrial Area. All interested parties are invited to join in.

This work session will go over some of the concerns raised by councilmembers Todd Donovan and Rud Browne after the county Planning Commission handed over its final recommendations on the Cherry Point amendments on August 13, 2020.

These proposed amendments to the County code and Comprehensive Plan are intended to prevent companies at Cherry Point from building new shipping terminals for the purpose of exporting unrefined fossil fuels.

So what is the council concerned about this time?

The changes to the proposed Cherry Point amendments that were approved by the Planning Commission on August 13 would prohibit new “Fossil Fuel Transshipment Facilities” but allowed the exception of “inter-refinery shipments.” Councilmember Browne wrote that this language could allow any previously permitted, currently existing Fossil Fuel Transshipment Facilities (including storage tanks accessory to existing Fossil Fuel Refineries) to be converted and used for “inter-refinery shipments” of fossil fuels (including crude oil) without further permitting.

Browne’s solution is to add language specifying that the exception applies only to inter-refinery shipments of refined petroleum products. He says these added words make it clear that existing refineries would still need a Conditional Use permit if they ever want to convert their storage tanks for “inter-refinery shipments” of crude oil or other unrefined fossil fuels.

“While it is reasonable and normal to permit the refineries to store and transship refined products as a part of their normal operations,” Browne explains, “the community should retain the right to require a Conditional Use permit prior to allowing any substantive increase in inter-refinery shipments of crude oil-by-rail or oil-by-sea because these could result in significant new risks to the health, safety and public transportation infrastructure within the community.”

The councilmembers also want to add “New Unrefined Fossil Fuel Transshipment Facilities” under the list of prohibited uses. Browne says “the risks associated with increasing the volume of oil-by-rail to support such a facility is greater than the benefit it brings the community.”

The Planning Commission’s final recommendations had the support of both industry and environmental advocates. It remains to be seen if the councilmembers’ new suggested changes will have that same support.

The public virtual work session will begin at 1 pm on Tuesday, October 20, 2020.
Zoom meeting link
Call in phone number (253) 215 – 8782
Meeting/Webinar ID: 944 9562 3701
Passcode: 20201020
Registration: No registration offered for this meeting
Public Hearing: No public hearings during this meeting
Open Session: No Open Session during this meeting

You can also watch the work session through the county’s Legislative Information Center or on the county’s youtube channel.

Anticipated topics of discussion include:
• Definition of Fossil Fuel Transshipment Facilities
• Definition of Inter-Refinery
• Discussion of Greenhouse Gas and Facility Emissions Language
• Clarification/Revisions Related to Permit Requirements, Permitted Uses, Conditional Uses, and Prohibited Uses
• Discussion of Major Project Permit Language
• Discussion of Change of Use Provisions
• Discussion of Fossil Fuel Storage Capacity
• Differential Treatment of Renewal and Non-Renewal Fuels
• Discussion of Insurance Requirements
• Discussion of State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Code Language.

A moratorium on new crude oil exporting facilities at Cherry Point has been in place for the last 4 and a half years while the council and Planning Commission have worked on the code and comp plan amendments.

The council will have to introduce another 6-month extension of the moratorium on November 10, 2020, if more time is needed to finish the new rules.

written by Mike Curtiss